By: Brian Howard/Grambling Athletics

NEW ORLEANS | The Grambling State University football team dominated the first half, but turnovers led to 20 Southern points as the Jaguars pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 34-17 in the 49th Annual Bayou Classic on Saturday afternoon at the Caesars Superdome.

In a Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) rivalry game, Southern came in needing a victory to advance to the conference title game next weekend at Jackson State. The lone roadblock standing in the Jaguars way – Grambling State. 

The Tigers gave Southern all it could handle for three-plus quarters, but the Jaguars returned a GSU fumble 46 yards midway through the final period to seal the victory.

Grambling State’s first two drives started in excellent field position, but came away with no points as Garrett Urban’s 48-yard attempt went wide left, keeping the game tied at 0 with 6:20 remaining in the opening quarter.

Southern (7-4 overall, 5-3 SWAC) mustered just one first down in the opening quarter (5:22) as the Tigers defense held the Jaguars, a team that averaged 413.0 total yards, to just 12 yards in the first quarter.

Grambling State’s offense went to work late in the opening frame as Julian Calvez connected with Claude Coleman for 40 yards, and a personal foul face mask penalty advanced the ball to the SU 30. 

Three plays later, Chance Williams sprinted down the left side for an 18-yard gain. On the very next play, Calvez found Lyndon Rash on the 4-yard fade as the Tigers completed a 6-play, 80-yard drive with 43 seconds remaining.

The Tigers (3-8, 2-6) appeared to be adding onto the lead midway through the second quarter, but Calvez was sacked, while losing the football as Ckelby Givens recovered the ball at the SU 19.

The Jaguars cashed in the turnover by driving 71 yards in six plays, aided by a Besean McCray 32 yard run as Karl Ligon pushed in the tying touchdown with 7:08 left in the half.

Grambling State answered Southern’s scoring drive by going 49 yards in nine plays as Urban booted a 45-yard field goal from the right hash as the Tigers grabbed the 10-7 advantage with 3:17 remaining in the second.

Southern made use of the final three minutes, driving the ball 76 yards in seven plays as McCray connected with Cassius Allen for 32 yards, setting up first-and-goal from the GSU 5. Kendric Rhymes punched in the touchdown one play later on a 5-yard carry, sending the Jaguars into the half with a 14-10 lead.

Grambling State took the opening kickoff of the second half and marched 94 yards in nine plays with Williams and Floyd Chalk IV doing the damage with runs of 22 and 30 yards. The Tigers punched in the go-ahead score on a Calvez keeper, giving GSU the 17-14 advantage with 10:23 remaining in the third.

Southern forged ahead, 21-17, early in the fourth as the Jaguars completed a 12-play, 60-yard drive with McCray breaking free up the middle for a 22-yard touchdown with 13:30 left.

On the ensuing GSU drive, the Tigers were aided by a defensive pass interference penalty and Noah Bean caught a short swing pass, hurdled a defender and was knocked out of bounds at the GSU 47. 

However, on the next play, Calvez was sacked by Jason Dumas as the ball was knocked out. Jordan Carter scooped up the loose ball and went 46 yards to the house as Southern seized control with a 28-17 advantage with 7:42 remaining.

Southern capped the scoring with 2:58 left as Calvez was picked off by Kriston Davis at the GSU 28 and took it to the end zone for the pick six score as the Jaguars led 34-17.